Well, we’re not really in Eureka right now, but we’re close: Riverwalk RV Resort in Fortuna, California.
This is a very nice RV park, one that we’ve visited a number of times. It is very clean, has beautiful trees (huge redwood trees between sites), has the nicest office/store of any RV park that we’ve visited, and has a swimming pool, too.
Fortuna is located about a dozen miles south of Eureka on Hwy 101. There’s not much in Fortuna except all of the basic stores. However, it is located maybe 5 miles from Ferndale.
Ferndale is a little tourist magnet that has quite a few Victorian buildings, many of which are nicely preserved in bright colors. The downtown features a bunch of them and has a couple of shops that Charlie likes to visit. We were there yesterday, and she bought several Brighton jewelry items. It made her week.
The Humboldt County Fair is in session this week, and we dropped by after shopping to mosey through the place. It was Seniors’ Day, so admission was free to us old coots.
That was totally appropriate, because it was a very puny County fair. Not much to see, really, so we focused on finding some totally unhealthy “fair food” to munch on.
Charlie had a $10 hamburger and I had some curly fries that were topped by a miniscule amount of chicken, bleu cheese, and Buffalo sauce. Three guys couldn’t have eaten all of the fries, and the crappy meal cost me $14! I’ll bet that the ingredients didn’t cost $1.50.
We concluded our short visit by purchasing: (1) a hat for Charlie; and, (2) a couple of tee shirts.
All in all, we donated about $100 to the local economy.
(Walking through the fairgrounds involved some deja vu on my part. I managed the Riverside County Fair/National Date Festival from 1988 through 1994. It was a very large fair…10th largest County fair in the U.S. (we did over 220,000 in attendance in ten days). We also had Off-Track Wagering, a locally-televised Presidents’ Day Parade, and an Arabian Nights Pageant, to boot. Our rear parking lot was larger than the Ferndale fairgrounds. We had good times there, both Charlie and I.)
I spent some time this week rejiggering the rest of our trip. We had been scheduled to go from here to Bodega Bay, then to Marin, then to Monterey, then down to Oceanside. However, the more I thought about spending one whole week in Marin (it’s a small, tight park), the more I didn’t like it. What we decided to do was reduce our stay there to three days, add one day to our stop near Monterey (Marina Dunes), and add a 2-day stop at Half Moon Bay.
(Although I lived in Santa Cruz when I was a teen, I never visited Half Moon Bay, which is just up the coast a bit. I’m looking forward to it. It is near the location of the famous “Mavericks” surf spot.)
BTW, I think we’re going to scrap the plan (?) to euthanize Jay Jay. He has kicked his diarrhea problem, has resumed excreting hard turds, and his bubbly personality has returned. I think our threats…to plant the dude…worked. HaHa.
We had a very nice time at our last stop, Driftwood RV Park in Brookings, Oregon.
The park is located right adjacent to the Brookings harbor, so there are a lot of seafood joints right there within walking distance (or, short drive). Plus, there is a very nice beach, with real waves, rock mounts out in the sea, nice sand, and scads of driftwood piled up along the shore.
The beach is about a five-minute walk from our space (87), which was to the rear of the RV park. I took Baby down there several times, where she played fetch with driftwood sticks. Gee, the coast is pretty in southern Oregon!
The park is nicely-maintained, with clean restrooms/showers and a very pleasant office staff (“Alice”).
We met some neighbors who advised us on some good eating places in Brookings. We tried a few. “Catalyst” is a seafood joint about 1/4 mile away. It features FRESH seafood that was caught that very day by the restaurant’s own boat, “The Catalyst”. We enjoyed their Calimari (the best that we’ve ever had, and that’s saying alot, because we have Calimari whenever it is on a menu!), and their Black Cod fish tacos. Muy bueno! We will come here again, for sure.
We ate lunch one day at a Mexican joint in town which was next to a pet store and mail center. Anyway, the food was good…I had Chile Verde. But next door, at the pet store, we met up with an old friend from Coos Bay, “Jessie”, who has relocated to Driftwood RV Park along with husband “Luke” and their TWO BOSTON TERRIERS, “Enza” and “Odin”. Those little dogs are SO cute…Odin looks like a bookend to Baby, with the half Black half White face. Cool guy!
Another place that we tried is “Fat Irish” pub, which is only about 1 minute drive from our coach in the RV park. They have typical pub food, and it was good, although we ordered too much of it.
There is another highly recommended bar in Brookings that we missed this time around: “Superfly”. Our RV friends raved about it. Next time.
Brookings is just the right size: 6,000 population, with everything located along the U.S. 101 corridor. They have a Fred Meyer, which is better than a Wal Mart, a very exceptional vet hospital (where Jay Jay was treated for his chronic diarrhea!), a Chase Bank!, and a couple of nice pet supply stores.
We really like Brookings: we’ve committed to do 2 weeks there in 2020.
Yesterday, we drove a measly 30 minutes south on Hwy 101 to Crescent City, California. (Yeah, Baby, we can buy booze now!)
We are staying a week at Bayside RV Park, which is adjacent to the Crescent City Marina. It is a pretty run-down park, mainly uneven asphalt with a few trees. There are mostly full-time residents living in this park, probably guys who work in the harbor area, fishing or repairing ships in drydock.
Most of the motorhomes and trailers in this park are empty during the day, some with dogs in them! Those poor wretches…alone, holding their pee, nothing to do but sleep, no exercise, etc….it’s a crime! Charlie doesn’t like the blue collar atmosphere here and doesn’t want to return here in the future.
(In her defense, she is not used to camping in this kind of environment. Typically, because we can afford it, we stick to A-rated RV parks that have all of the nice amenities, level paved pads, landscaping, etc. In our traveling, we’re not used to seeing the underbelly of distressed American communities. We lived in prosperous Southern California all of our lives, and now we’re in Mesquite, Nevada living among other retired ex-pats from California and other well-to-do places…folks like us who are not worrying about our next meal or whether or not we will have a job next week. Suffice it to say, we have been blessed.
We both worked hard throughout our lives to get what we have, but benefited from a thriving local economy and the excellent infrastructure that prosperity can afford. Some of the places that we have stayed at thus far during this trip (like Tonopah and Crescent City) are pretty run down and marginally viable. Crescent City itself has been struck by two devastating tsunamis in the past 50 years which wiped out their harbor and parts of town. When will the next one arrive?
It must suck to live in these places, where there is not much promise of a better day. The American Dream seems to have passed them by. It makes me sad to see people struggling to survive, day-to-day.
At least we’re helping a bit, by spending money here on RV park rent, groceries, fuel, and having an occasional meal at local restaurants.)
There is a walking path/coastal bikeway right adjacent to the RV park and a very beautiful beach is only a five-minute walk from our unit. Baby and Booger have been to this beach a couple of times and really like it. Lots of driftwood sticks to chase and fight over. Barking seals, too.
The harbor/marina here is beautiful…lots of money was spent here restoring and improving the facilities that were devastated by the tsunamis.
The docks in the new marina are built to accommodate ocean surges of 8 to 12 feet, which should protect from future tsunamis.
Right across the park from us is a shipyard where there seems to be a lot of activity repairing and restoring vessels, old and new. Some of the ships awaiting their turn are pretty rough…
We went to a nail salon on Friday: Charlie got new nail “dips” and I got a pedicure. We are going to return on Tuesday for haircuts. Nice people.
There are several seafood joints in our RV park vicinity; maybe we’ll try one? We went to Wal Mart today, following out nail jobs, did some shopping, and enjoyed a Subway sandwich for lunch. Excellent!
Charlie is amazed at the appearance of the locals: a rough-looking crowd, lots of facial hair (and that’s just the women!), obese bodies, lots of flannel, missing teeth, run-down cars, etc. In the space across from us there sits a very small, very old travel trailer…maybe 100 square feet in size. An old, disabled woman lives in that trailer by herself.
It is Blue Collar Land, for sure. I think the economy around here is: Logging; Fishing; and, Farming. No fancy cars, malls, or upscale housing. But, I did find some nice Camo cargo shorts at Wal-Mart: less than $20!
(Speaking of the Camo thing, I was standing in line at Wal Mart just in front of two local twenty-something males with mullet haircuts who were chatting about the recent mass killings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio. The redneck good ‘ol boys seemed to be concerned about their gun rights, but one guy assured the other that Trump is only targeting “Mexicans” (?!) As if…Latinos, illegal or legal, were the ones doing the mass murdering instead of the White Supremecists!)
Speaking of murdering, I’m about to terminate our fucking Norcold refrigerator. It has developed a water leak…despite the fact that I’ve turned off the water source for the ice maker. I don’t know what to do, but it’s really the only thing that isn’t working correctly in the RV, so we might be sending this Norcold S.O.B. to the happy hunting grounds after this trip. Go to Hell, Sir!
I made Chicken Tortilla soup the other night for Charlie. It’s a store-bought mix, but I spice it up with sliced avocado, tortilla strips, chicken, and sour cream. Es una comida muy deliciosa.
BTW, Jay Jay seems to be recovering from his recent doldrums. His front paw that was annoying him (possible small thorn?) for a month seems to have gone away. And, (drum roll, please!) his three month-old case of raging diarrhea has abated, thanks to some new meds we got at Brookings Town and Country Vet Hospital. The preliminary diagnosis is pancreatitis, but we’ll know more once we get to Old Town Veterinary Hospital in Murrieta (Sept 11th) and consult with Dr. Black.
This week, the lad has recovered the bounce in his step, and he’s pumping out some recognizable turd-like objects. He’s also back to his specialty: major league food begging.
Fingers are crossed that he’s over the hump, health-wise ’cause he’s my BFF.
Oops! Charlie just pointed out to me that our front windshield has a crack in it!!!!! Sonofabitch. That spoiled an otherwise nice day. Fuck me.
I know exactly how it happened. Just like in Coos Bay, five years ago, when we had a poorly-leveled site, the air leveling system tried a bit too hard to make things right when we set up here, tweaking the chassis. The weak spot in the rectangular box that is the motor home is, in fact, the glass windshield.
One more good reason to avoid this RV park (“Bayside”) in the future.
I hate to turn in a claim to my insurance carrier; they’ll have a fit! Maybe I won’t, because we are going to replace our Norcold refrigerator this year anyway, and, to do that, the RV repair folks are going to have to remove the window to get at the refrig. We’ll probably get both repaired at the same time…and eat the cost of the new window. My bad.
Right at the end of our Crescent City visit we met a nice couple here in the park: Clinton and Cathy Ritchie. He’s an artist who does woodcarving and sells his stuff at street fairs and coastal souvenir shops. He finds his raw material (pine tree knots) in the Oregon forests.
Here he is with Charlie:
Here’s some of his woodcarving products:
I didn’t get a photo of Cathy but she’s a dead ringer for Nurse Ratched, the gal who tormented Jack Nicholson in “Cuckoo’s Nest”. Cathy is nicer, though.
The two of them travel from town to town selling their wares in a Class C motorhome with their two dogs, both Cocker Spaniels. One of them, a very large one, recently got special haircut from his artist/BFF, Clint.
Tomorrow, Charlie and I set sail for the Eureka area (“Riverwalk RV Resort”). More coastal sights to see!
We’re about to finish the first third of our 3-month RV expedition. We’ll be buttoning up the rig tomorrow and heading off to Brookings, Oregon on Tuesday, July 30th.
We’ve been on the Oregon Coast since July 5th. The weather has been pretty much the same day by day: low to high 60’s during the day, with upper 50’s at night. Lots of sunshine with occasional clouds or fog.
It’s a far cry from the weather in Mesquite, where the daytime temp now hits well above 100 degrees. We don’t miss it.
Our first stop in Oregon was a 1-night “boondock” appearance at the Newport Marina RV Park, where we visited our friends, Dan and Peggy Quinn, and dropped off some mail that we’d been holding for them. We had a barbequed Prime Rib, courtesy of Big Dan (note: it was REALLY GOOD), plus baked taters, and other scrumptious munchies.
From Newport, we motored down the coast highway about 2-1/2 hours to Charleston, Oregon to one of our favorite RV parks: “Oceanside”. We call our stay up in this area “Coos Bay”, but the actual RV park is just a couple miles south of the Charleston harbor.
The RV park is right adjacent to a wonderful, sandy beach (Bastendorff) that the dogs love, and has a big rock spit that extends out into the ocean. Very pretty, with lots of tide pools, too.
We were pleasantly surprised when we got to the park and realized that the new owners are re-landscaping the entire place…it was a bit rundown…and it’s looking great. The new owners must have listened to campers, because most of the stuff on my wish list for this place is being addressed. The gravel roadways have been replace with asphalt, which has eliminated the dust problem that they had here. The laundry room is the only sore spot now: both washing machines are “down” right now. Supposedly, they will be replaced this Summer.
One of our good friends from Sun City Mesquite, neighbor Sandy Rose, and her dog, Greta, stayed with us for six days…and were wonderful guests. The three adults enjoyed alcoholic beverages on the patio, shopped in town, ate at some nice restaurants (note: Sandy treated us to an upscale meal at a downtown Coos Bay joint named “O”…it was GOOD!), played cards, and solved world problems.
After Sandy left, we had the opportunity to pal up with some other extended stay folks like ourselves: Bruce and Barbara Newman. They are full-time RV’ers, like Dan and Peggy Quinn, and they also winter in Yuma, like the Quinns.
Bruce and Barbara are about our age. They are originally from New York (Queens, I think), and Barbara sounds just like Edith Bunker from “All In The Family”. They have children and grandchildren, along with all the drama that that entails…so we had stories to share. And, they travel with three dogs like us, one of which is a Boston Terrier named “Buster”. Our six dogs got along great.
Here we are at Miller’s By The Cove:
We had a great couple of weeks hanging around with the Newmans. We shared lots of stories each day, sitting in our patio area, doing what retired people do, bitching and moaning about the cost of living, our latest medical ailments, and stupid things that we’ve done or seen. Bruce was once an electrician, but later in life made a career change to Orthopedic Tech, and Barbara was a bookkeeper for general contractors, I believe. So, with Charlie’s and my background, we had lots of stories to tell.
The four of us rescued some young folks one day. McKenzie and Anthony were camping here, in a tent, I think. When they went to leave, McKenzie’s Toyota overheated, right near us. The four of us invited then into our patio lair, gave them things to eat and drink, and spent a couple of hours with them while their car cooled down. I put some antifreeze in the radiator to help out. Finally, when they were done enjoying our food, drink, and marijuana, they took off. What a nice couple!
(BTW, McKenzie’s grandmother has been married 14 times! She even married a guy who was in prison and divorced him before he got out!!)
My new friend Bruce Newman is a 70-ish stoner: he’s either smoking a joint, has just finished one, or has just ingested a THC-laced cookie. Barbara says that he’s been doing dope since he was 16. Anyway, he’s pretty mellow, friendly, and always cracking corny jokes. And, always offering a toke or Alice B Toklas cookie, with the advisory, “Just try a small portion!”
I got talked into making some THC-laced chocolate chip cookies. Bruce and I got some marijuana distillate at the dispensary (90 percent THC), I mixed it up with some Betty Crocker cookie mix, and I proceeded to make 3 small batches…about 30 cookies in all.
I got caught up in the production of the cookies, forgot that they had “medicine” in them, and threw down a cooled, runt cookie while I was putting the last batch in the convection oven. Oh, Boy, was that a mistake! I became totally wasted within an hour, and had to lay down on the bed… hallucinating. That’s where Charlie found me about 90 minutes later, when she returned from shopping with Barbara. I was zapped, of no use to anyone, for the rest of the afternoon and evening. Holy Shit, that stuff was powerful!
Mr. Stoner (i.e. Bruce) saved my ass yesterday. A hydraulic strut that helps close one of the under-the-coach equipment storage bays broke, and was in a very awkward position to repair. I couldn’t figure out how to get at the problem with the limited tools at my disposal. Bruce, using his THC-stimulated imagination, somehow disengaged the strut, allowing me to close the bay door. He receives a Cheech Marin “Three Thumbs Up!” commendation on that one. I will have it fixed when we get home.
The only downside of our Coos Bay stay has been Jay Jay’s persistent bowel issues. He’s had un-firm poos for three months now, and we’ve tried everything. Jay is definitely getting old (he’ll be 14 in October), and his hearing and eyesight are failing somewhat. And, his normal enthusiasm…except at chow time. We are going to hook up with Dr. Black in Murrieta, once we set up down in Oceanside (Southern California) in early September. I just hope Jay Jay doesn’t get any worse by then.
Our next two stops, Brookings, Oregon and Crescent Bay, California will be new to us. I hope they are as nice as Coos Bay, and I hope we can meet some new friends there, as well.
The dictionary defines the word numb as follows: deprived of the power of sensation (adj.); deprive of feeling or responsiveness (v.). Synonyms include: desensitized, unfeeling, anaesthetizing.
I believe all of these words describe the preposterous situation that the majority of decent Americans find themselves in after almost 30 months of the Trump Presidency.
We have heard THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA publicly utter so many outright lies, vulgar characterizations, and racist comments that we have become anesthetized to this horrible behavior by the supposed moral leader of our country. It seems normal, now, for a President to simply vent his spleen, publicly, on a daily basis, insulting and demeaning people of all walks of life, colors, and creeds.
What must our young people think? I come from a different era, but I would have punished my children for saying many of the things that our President has tweeted and stated publicly.
This is what Presidential leadership has come to: lashing out at people who don’t agree with you, calling them names, suggesting that reporters who are doing their job should be “locked up”, and telling four Congresswomen to “go back to the country you came from”, despite the fact that three of them were born in the U.S. and the other was brought here as a child and has been an American citizen for 19 years.
Eric Trump, the President’s son and regular apologist, said this week that “95 percent of Americans agree with my Dad”.
Eric’s testimonial appears to be slightly off the mark, since the President’s disapproval rating by the American public has hovered between 55 and 60 percent ever since he took office. (It would be statistically unlikely that virtually all of the “non-Approvers” would simultaneously approve of the President’s racist comments. Think about it, Eric. But, nice try. Maybe your Daddy will increase your allowance.)
Based upon the absolute silence coming from Republican Senators and Congressmen whenever Mr. Trump insults other politicians, allies, people of color, and Administration officials that he has grown tired of, it is apparent, however, that 95 percent of Donald Trump’s political base approves of his un-Presidential behavior.
But, what about the rest of us? What are we to do, while we watch our democracy slowly dissolve before our eyes into an autocracy...
This must be how non-Nazi Germans felt as Adolph Hitler and his goons extended their tentacles throughout their country in the 1930’s… a slow motion slide into a dictatorship based upon religious/racial hatred.
The Democratic Party is an amorphous blob of nobodies right now. I’m sure that there are some good people in the mix of Presidential contenders, individuals who could do a decent job, if elected. But, right now, them seem to be fighting one another, spending their time undermining Democrats, rather than assailing the President and his inept and loathsome performance. There’s an extraordinary amount of Administration stupidity to attack; can’t anyone speak up?
The four Congresswomen who the President insulted are non-mainstream Democrats with no power in Washington except to make inflammatory comments on CNN. They seem to be making a concerted effort to destroy their own political party, by badmouthing Congressional leaders with whom they disagree. Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi must be apoplectic.
Our loudmouthed, racist President may not be so dumb after all. If he keeps America’s attention on the Democrats’ infighting and succeeds in labeling that Party as “socialist” and “un-Patriotic”…and the dumb Democratic Party lets him get away with it… he will likely win re-election in 2020.
(Interestingly, it was not that long ago when making “we can do better than this!” comments about the current Administration were considered highly patriotic, at least by a certain segment of America’s population.
Candidate Donald Trump, campaigning on a “Make America Great Again” slogan, had nothing but shade to throw on the Obama Presidency. He first tried to undermine Mr. Obama by accusing him of being born in Africa (as if that is a sin). He then lambasted Obama’s achievements. In 2015, Trump said, “The American Dream is dead”, and gushed about the Chinese, ” “China, you go there now, roads, bridges, schools, you never saw anything like it,” he marveled. “I love China.” As for the U.S.A., “We’re dying. We’re dying. … We’ve got nothing.”
Now that numerous politicians, including the four female Congresswomen (three Black and one Hispanic) that the President trashed last week, are lamenting that this Nation, under Trump, is circling the drain… somehow criticism like this is totally un-patriotic, and the critics should be exported to other countries!!
“Send ’em back!” is the new rallying cry of the Trump fanatic.
Yep, pretty hypocritical, but what do you expect from folks who drank the Trumpian Kool-Aid in the first place?
Update: At the rally, when his supporters chanted, “Send ’em back!”, the President enjoyed the feedback, beaming. After one day of recriminations from many Americans, Trump publicly disavowed his approval of the “Send ’em back!” slogan. Twenty-four hours later, after getting feedback from his handlers, he reversed himself, again,and called the “Send ’em back!” folks “patriots”.
Spain is our favorite travel destination. We’ve been there a couple of times and would return if we could. Maybe someday.
We once took a Mediterranean cruise with my parents that began in “Barcelona”. I believe we got there a day or two early and had a limited amount of time to spend in the city.
It is a very large and interesting city which hosted the 1992 Olympic Games. We visited shortly thereafter. I recall that it had a nice subway which enabled us to see key sights without a car. I also recall that my Dad fell down the stairs going down to the subway.
Las Ramblas is a three-quarter mile, tree-lined boulevard with a pedestrian mall running down the center, and is considered the social center of Barcelona.
Along Las Ramblas are hotels, restaurants, outdoor cafes, bars, kiosk vendors, and small shops. It’s a delightful place to take a stroll, particularly in the evening.
Lots of free entertainment here, as well. There are many street performers (like human statues), who come in all types of costumes, and can remain motionless for an hour.
I think you get the point: it’s like Fremont Street in Las Vegas, but classier. We didn’t see any, “Kick me in the nuts for $5.00!” signs.
On the minus side, Barcelona is known as the “Pickpocket Capital of Europe”, and Las Ramblas is where these jokers like to ply their trade. Guess why?
We actually saw a team of pickpockets in action. A car was coming up and out of a parking structure, and had to stop at the dipped curb. One guy reached into the back seat, grabbed a lady’s purse from her, and then lateraled it off to another accomplice, and they took off running, with the driver and another guy in hot pursuit. The brazen pickpockets got away.
Another interesting place in Barcelona is the Gothic Quarter, which is the oldest part of the city. At one entrance to the Quarter, there are Roman walls.
The Quarter is mostly made of stone, very Medieval in nature, although much it was erected many hundreds of years later. Narrow alleys abound.
You see a lot of roll-up doors facing the alley. They are all shops that are open for business during the day.
There is also a nice cathedral in the Quarter.
However…THE biggest tourist attraction in Barcelona is another church, the Basilica of the Familia Sagrada, which has been under construction since 1882.
It is almost impossible to describe this jaw-dropping architectural masterpiece. It looks, from the park in the foreground, like someone (God?) has dripped candlewax on the structure…it has a very organic feel to it, even though it is obviously made of stone and steel.
The Modernist architect/artist behind this massive project was Antonio Gaudi. Many of his works are featured in this city, including unusual buildings and the famous Parc Guell.
When we visited the Familia Sagrada cathedral, I had an opportunity to huff and puff my way up the stairs in one of the completed exterior spires. What a view!
When completed, the church will have eighteen exterior spires, the tallest of which will be 560 feet tall, making the Basilica of the Familia Sagrada the tallest church in the world.
The exterior has many facets, with lots of niches and statuary built right into the structure.
However, the inside of the cathedral is other-worldly. The center of the structure (the vaulted ceiling of the apse) is 246 feet high.
Construction is scheduled to be completed in 2026, funded by private donations. (I think we kicked in ten bucks!)
For many years we owned a deluxe timeshare in Mexico. One year, we exchanged a “bonus” week from our travel account for a condo at Marbella, just a few miles from Malaga, on the Costa del Sol (south coast, Mediterranean side) of Spain.
We flew to Madrid, rented a car, and headed south on A-5, a very nice highway. You’ve probably heard the old rhyme, “The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain.” Well, there is a lot of that plain between Madrid and Malaga. It’s about 320 miles of dry, rolling hills with nothing much happening except olive orchards here and there, with an occasional hilltop castle thrown into the mix.
This area, called “La Mancha”, was the stomping ground of the fictional Don Quixote and his sidekick, Sancho Panza.
After 5 hours of a fairly boring drive we came to the Mediterranean port city of Malaga. It looked like a very vibrant resort town, complete with beautiful beaches and a bullring.
However, we weren’t stopping there, we were headed further south.
Our timeshare condo was situated in the “Marbella” area.
We chose that location because all of the major places of interest in southern Spain are located within a 1-1/2 hour drive. So, our plan was to check one out each day.
Before going on, I should remind the reader, if unawares, of the history of Spain. The Iberian Peninsula (including Spain and Portugal) was part of the Roman Empire from roughly 200 B.C. until almost 400 A.D., almost 600 years. The Visigoths (a faction of the Germanic Goths) controlled the area for the next 300 years.
The Moors (the Umayyad faction of the Muslim empire) kicked out the Visigoths in 711 A.D. and stayed put for 500 years. They called the Muslim area of the Iberian peninsula “Al Andalus”. (Today, it is known as the Andalusian province of Spain.)
The long Moorish occupation is why much of the outstanding surviving architecture in major Spanish cities near the Mediterranean retains a pronounced Islamic theme.
Our first destination was “Cordoba”. Approaching the city, one cannot be unimpressed by the huge bridge structure that was built by the Romans in the 1st century B.C. and survives, with modifications, to this day (it’s 2,000 years old!)
Between 784 A.D. and 1235 A.D., almost five hundred years, Cordoba was the capital of a Muslim caliphate that encompassed much of Spain. In the 10th century, during the Muslim (Moorish) occupation, it was the largest city in Europe.
The signature landmark of the city is the famous Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba (also known as the Mezquita) considered one of the finest examples of Moorish architecture in the world. It is a huge building, encompassing 128,000 square feet.
The interior prayer hall is supported by 856 columns with red and white arches.
The “mihrab” is the place within the mosque that is closest to Mecca and the direction that all prayers are directed toward.
The building was obviously designed as a Muslim mosque, as Islam forbids the depiction of God’s creations therein (i.e. the Second Commandment re: graven images). As a result, this mosque (and all others, for that matter) feature architecture and interior designs which are of a geometric nature: beautiful but subtle reminders of God’s design of the world. It is repetitious, but in a spectacularly beautiful way.
After the Christian re-conquest of Spain in 1236 A.D., the mosque became a Catholic cathedral. Along with that came fancy altars and familiar Christian images of holy folk…i.e. the things that are forbidden by the Second Commandment. The most significant alteration was the building of a Renaissance cathedral nave in the middle of the expansive structure. The insertion was constructed by permission of Charles V, King of Castile and Aragon. However, when Charles V visited the completed cathedral he was displeased by the result and famously commented: “You have destroyed something unique to build something commonplace”.)
Located near the Mezquita is the Alcazar, which was the royal palace of King Alfonso of Castille. It includes some spectacularly landscaped gardens.
Our destination on the following day was “Seville”, where we had opted for a guided walking tour of the city by a very nice Spanish lady who might have been a college history professor.
Seville is located on the Guadalquivir River which, until the 17th century, was a major Spanish seaport. In fact, Ferdinand Magellan began his circumnavigation of the globe from Seville in 1519.
Of course, way back before the time of the Spanish Empire, the Moors ruled this land for five hundred years. There is an “alcazar” (royal palace) n Seville, and it has a distinctive Moorish flavor, as the original residence was an Umayyad palace. Later Spanish kings enhanced it. It’s spectacular.
This portal leads to some impressive gardens.
In the almost 200 years since the Reconquista (i.e. the conquest of the Moors), the city of Seville became quite wealthy as a result of its maritime trade. The city fathers wanted to build a great cathedral. According to legend, they said, “Let us build a church so beautiful and so grand that those who see it finished will take us for mad”. And, beginning in 1411 A.D., that’s what they did.
It is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world, and the third largest church of any kind.
The cathedral encompasses some 253,000 square feet, and the floor-to-ceiling height at the center transept is 138 feet tall. It makes you feel so small, which is probably the intention.
This church has several altars.
The choir enjoys some spiffy accommodations in this church…
… supported by a humongous organ.
Lots of nice Gothic architectural detail.
Oh, by the way, Christopher Columbus’ tomb is inside this cathedral.
Seville is a large city of almost 700,000 people, and it is much more than just an Alcazar and a Gothic cathedral. It is also the capital of Flamenco dancing, something we did not have the time to enjoy as we were only in town for the day. Flamenco is a nighttime sport.
(Note to file: The next time we visit Spain, we need to include some overnight visits.)
On the following day, we headed north a bit to the wonderful city of “Granada”, located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. It is one of Spain’s most popular tourist destinations.
1492 A.D. was an important year in Granada: (1) The Kingdom of Granada was conquered by the Spanish Monarchs (Ferdinand and Isabella), completing the “Reconquista” (i.e. the overthrow of Islamic rule in Spain); (2) Following the victory, the royal couple took up residence in Granada; and, (3) Later that year, at their royal palace in Granada, they gave state sponsorship to Christopher Columbus’ voyage to America.
The big tourist draw in Granada is the “Alhambra”, an Arab citadel and palace that was built by the Moors in the 14th century. It is the most renowned building of the Islamic historical legacy in Spain.
The demand of tourists to see this place is so high that: (a) visitors must pay $15.00 to enter; and, (b) the volume of visitors is metered, so that your Alhambra experience must fit within a window of time. And, that is a good thing, because the whole experience would be ruined with crowds of people milling about, talking, and taking photos. This place needs to be savored; quiet contemplation is required.
It is no wonder why King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella relocated their royal residence to Granada: the place is beautiful.
Several vaulted ceilings in the palace are stunning, with intricate detail.
Exquisite tile work and Arabic calligraphy on stucco adorn the walls, from bottom to top.
It gets hot in the Summer in Granada. Accordingly, a garden retreat was built adjacent and uphill from the palace where the royals could enjoy the view, the sounds, and the smells of nature. It is called the “Generalife”, and is among the most photographed places in the world.
One other feature of the Alhambra is the presence within the walled compound of the Palace of Charles V. It is a large, square building with a circular inner patio.
This monstrosity was built in the mid- 16th century, was never completed and was never occupied by a monarch. It was evidently just something to stoke the ego of the Holy Roman Emperor, who wanted to upstage the spectacular Moorish accomplishments at Alhambra.
Our next destination was the British Overseas Territory of “Gibraltar”, which is located on the very southern tip of Spain. The Brits have owned this strategic place since the height of their empire, much to the dismay of the Spanish, who want it back.
Gibraltar is famous for “The Rock”, which is the famous 1,400 foot limestone promontory that juts out into the sea.
This is a very curious place.
First, for pedestrians and motor vehicles, there is one way in and out of Gibraltar: a road that crosses an airport runway!
Second, tourists can drive up onto the Rock or take a cable car to check the place out. There are gun batteries up there, caves, and a whole lot of Berber monkees, who make absolute pests of themselves.
Third, Gibraltar has a thriving economy, featuring shipping and tourism.
It is a duty free port, so it is one of Europe’s prime shopping venues.
We retreated to our condo in Marbella that night to re-charge our batteries for Thanksgiving Day, when we had big plans: to visit Africa!
We are big fans of the travel guru Rick Steves, and he highly recommends, with a trip to southern Spain, that one takes the ferry across the Strait of Gibraltar to “Tangier, Morocco”.
Tangier is to Morocco (North Africa) as Tijuana is to Mexico: a sprawling border town that can seem scary to newcomers.
Per Rick Steves’ recommendation we hired Aziz Benami, a local guy, to be our guide for the day. As I recall, he was a lawyer who moonlights as a tour guide…because he likes it. I think we paid $69 apiece. He took us for a drive in the Moroccan countryside while he gave us a briefing on the history of Morocco, the culture, and some interesting tidbits about Tangier.
He explained to us that Morocco was the first country to recognize the United States as a separate nation after our Declaration of Independence. So, it has Western ties, even though it is an Arab nation. He added that about one-third of the people dress in full Muslim attire, about one-third have modified Arab clothing, and another one-third, mostly the young, dress in the Western mode.
Once we got the general lay of the land, Aziz took us to the Medina, which is the ancient, walled part of Tangier. Before entering, he advised us to keep close to him, hang on to our valuables, and don’t look directly at the Berbers (i.e. indigenous Arab merchants and shoppers who don’t appreciate that). Okay, we said, and entered the arched gate.
Almost immediately, we found ourselves in a produce market, filled with Berbers. It was hard not to look at them, as they were interesting looking.
We then wandered through the “souk”, which is another term for marketplace or bazaar. Lots of goodies for sale, from clothing to groceries to furniture to jewelry, etc. It was reminiscent of Tijuana…with a North African flavor.
Of course, Aziz felt it necessary to steer us into a rug shop, where we were accosted by a very skilled salesman.
From there we wandered the old alleys a bit. Very exotic and exciting. I was wondering what the locals were thinking about us Americans.
Aziz took us into a hand-looming factory. On the first floor, near the stairway, was a nightmarish cobweb of exposed wiring, with extension cords plugged to extension cords ad infinitum… an electricians nightmare. That was the power for the many small cubicles in the upstairs working area.
Every room upstairs was devoted to hand-looming Moroccan rugs, scarves, and such. Here’s the equipment and a lucky guy.
The room that we visited was maybe 10′ wide and 15′ deep, with one loom… and six guys working it, sitting three on a side. They do that monotonous work all day, in stifling heat (no air conditioning), no music, no ladies to stare at, etc.
While we were up there on the second floor looming deck of the building, the muzzein’s call to prayer (public address system) could be heard in the neighborhood. Every single occupant of the building exited their cubicle, layed down a small rug on the walkway, and began to do their prayers to Allah. That’s when we KNEW we were out-of-place.
Our guide then took us to lunch. It was a seafood joint in the Medina, very small, unimpressive, with maybe 6 to 8 small tables. The menu was in Arabic and French, I believe: we had no idea what we’d eat.
The customers were all local men who gave us the stare when we entered. I almost shat when I noticed a particular guy chatting with some other locals: he was a spitting image of American Public Enemy Number One. I asked him if I could take a photo of he and Charlie. He said, menacingly, “Why? Because I look like Osama Bin Laden!!!!” I replied, sheepishly, “Yes.” He laughed, and said, “Sure.” It turned out that he was a banker friend of Aziz.
Aziz then introduced us to the restaurant owner, who found a table for us. And, then, Aziz announced that he had to run some errands, and left us there to fend for ourselves! We were a bit nervous.
I guess that Aziz had arranged everything, because the cook/waiter began to bring us all manner of foods, none of which I recognized (except fish). To our surprise, it was all delicious, particularly the fruity drink that was refilled many times for us.
We had a very memorable Thanksgiving Day lunch, thanks to Aziz Benami.
The next day, back in Spain, we headed north, back toward Madrid.
However, our vacation wasn’t done, because we were going to stop for two nights in “Toledo”.
We were not prepared for the wonderfulness of this place. It is just a perfect example of a hilltop, walled Medieval city. It is stunning as you approach in your car, and gets better when you emerge from the underground parking facility to the cobblestoned streets above. And, then, it is perfection at night.
Did I say that it is a walled city?
All of the main actors in Spanish history built, modified, and coveted this city. The Romans started the ball rolling, then the Visigoths came, followed by the Moors, and then the Spanish.
This is a Roman subterranean vault, the Cave of Hercules.
The Moors were here for a long time.
The Spanish monarchy had their royal palace here until the 16th century.
The walled city remains much like it was in Medieval times, with a maze of cobblestoned alleys leading this way and that. Cars are not permitted except during narrow windows of time when commercial deliveries can be mode with small lorries. The city is a World Heritage Site, so it must be maintained in the same fashion as it was back in the day.
This was the view from our hotel window.
Yep, that’s the Toledo Cathedral in the photo. It doesn’t look like much, but it is a masterpiece of architecture and indulgence. Of all the churches that we’ve seen in Italy and Spain, this one packs more punch per square foot than any of them. It took 270 years to build it, and the town’s people were carrying water up the hill in buckets while the Catholic bishops were gold-plating this thing. Go figure.
The most famous of all Spanish painters, El Greco, lived in Toledo. Here’s one of his paintings that is hung in the cathedral.
This appears to be some Medieval scene, as the guy on the left is wearing armor. Toledo is famous for a couple of consumer products: armor and sword blades. There are shops all over town that sell those products to aficionados.
Toledo has a population of 80,000 I believe, and quite a few live within the city walls. At night, the place comes alive, as folks head for bars and restaurants. Toledo at night is magical.
Tapas crawling is a major pastime in this town. Charlie and I did a bit.
Here’s what a tapas joint looks like inside.
The locals in these joints were very friendly, enjoying food and drink and watching TV (sitcoms and soccer). Good food, too.
We were lucky to spend two nights in this wonderful city. I think it is my second favorite place that we’ve visited, next to Venice.
Yesterday, at a neighborhood block party, I found myself
chatting with Al and Joyce Morgan. They are among the first people that we met
in Mesquite, and are ex-pats from Washington state. We sometimes hike together
in the Desert Fossils group.
Anyway, the Morgans are about to go on a European river barge tour from Budapest to Amsterdam. They are very excited, of course.
We got to talking about traveling and Al recalled a nice vacation that they’d had (last year I believe) in Italy. They’d rented a car and had explored Rome, Tuscany, Venice and such. Their favorite spot was Cinque Terre, which is a hilltop town near the ocean in northwest Italy.
I’m jealous: that is one of the places in Italy that we have not visited, in addition to the extreme north (Milan, Lake Como, Italian Alps). Maybe someday we can go see George Clooney’s Lake Como villa.
Charlie and I have enjoyed several vacations that took place wholly in Italy or included Italian stops in the itinerary (like Rome, Naples, and Venice).
Our favorite Italian destinations are Tuscany-Umbria, the Amalfi Coast, Taormina (Sicily) and, of course, Venice.
Charlie and I, along with my brother and sisters and their spouses, did a Greek Isles cruise many years ago. Prior to joining the group at Civitavecchia (the cruise ship port), we flew into Rome, rented a car, and headed north up the E-35…destination: the small Tuscan town of Chiusi, where we had lodging reservations.
The first thing that I realized about Italy is that: (a) the roads are very good; and, (2) the speed limits are “advisory”. There are two lanes on the big rural highways: the right lane is for sane folks; and, the left one is for wanna-be Formula One drivers. Even old Italian grannies drive drive like bats out of Hell, and quite a few imbeciles pass you going well over 100 MPH in their Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and Ducati motorcycles. I didn’t see one cop on the highway.
Our first stop was a hilltop town in Umbria named “Todi”.
As I recall, like a number of hilltop towns in Italy, automobiles are prohibited within the city walls, so we had to hoof it about a half mile up a steep, cobblestoned street to get to the top of the town. It just about killed Charlie, particularly when 90 year-old women with bundles on their back strode past us on their way home.
That’s one thing about Italy…not many 300-pound fatsos in sight; lots of walking, climbing stairs, hoofing it to the local market, etc., and virtually no “Handicapped” concessions anywhere. If you’re physically challenged…tough luck for you!
Todi was a small, but very pretty hilltop town and had a great view of the surrounding Umbrian landscape. I could live there…except for my bum left hip.
We retreated to A-35, minding our business and heading north, when we happened upon “Orvieto”. It is another hilltop town, but much more substantial. It even has a cable car that takes visitors from a parking lot near the highway up onto plateau of volcanic tuff where the town sits. It looked interesting, and we had some spare time, so we drove up to the town.
My Frommer’s guide book revealed that Orvieto is famous for its cathedral, the fact that several dozen Popes had lived in the town, and that St. Thomas Aquinas had taught there. At one time, in medieval times, 30,000 people had lived in the town. It is also a cold, stark place, as much of the town architecture and dwellings are constructed of dark basalt and tuff.
We were there too early to enter the Duomo (the imposing cathedral in the center of the town), but we took some photos of the exterior and some of the unusual artistry on the walls which depict a lot of unfortunate souls in Hell.
It was a pretty place once the sun came up and lightened up the alleys a bit. Quite a neat place to wander around.
After spending a few hours in Orvieto, we detoured east to explore Perugia and the spectacular town of “Assisi”. The huge church/monastery/tourist mecca dominates the gorgeous countryside as you approach.
There were lots of people there when we arrived midday, and we had lunch at a nice outdoor café near a piazza.
Then, we wandered down to the cathedral complex. It was quite beautiful; but, St. Francis would be embarrassed if he were still with us due to the vast resources that were poured into this extravagant monstrosity through the tithes of poor Medieval wretches who hardly had enough food to eat.
From there, we headed up to our lodgings in “Chiusi”, where we would reside for two days. It was a several-story hotel located just outside the town itself, in a beautiful location, looking out over the Tuscan countryside.
Absolutely perfect, it was, except for the handsome but sweaty Italian lad who helped us take our bags up to our room…and totally stunk up the elevator with his B.O.
Our accommodations were great, and they had a nice restaurant in the basement where we enjoyed a fine dinner.
The next day we headed north along some scenic roads. The countryside itself is a major attraction in Tuscany.
Then, we arrived in “Siena”. It is a spectacular walled town, with a great piazza and cathedral.
Everything in town funnels toward the vast Piazza del Campo, which is considered one of Europe’s greatest medieval squares. It is a vast area, surrounded by tall buildings, monuments, and such.
(If you’ve seen the James Bond movie “Quantum of Solace”, you might recall scenes from the Palio di Siena, a colorful horse race that occurs in the Piazza, with competitors from the city’s 13 wards competing in vibrant colors. Unfortunately for us, there was no race this day, but we had read about it and could imagine how exciting it must be.)
The enormous cathedral was under repair when we were there. Much of the exterior was rigged with scaffolding, so we didn’t see it in its full glory. However, the inside was magnificent (as were all of the Italian churches that we’ve visited).
As I mentioned, Siena is a walled town, with automobiles (except locals, early in the morning) prohibited. As I was approaching the town, looking for parking, which was scarce, I somehow found a way to get inside the city walls, by accident. Oops, what a fuck up, I’m in big trouble, I thought.
Visions of spending a night in jail went through my mind, as I frantically tried to extricate myself from the interior maze. I don’t know how I did it, but I found an exit…before the Carabinieri found me.
Siena is also a very popular tourist trap. There were a lot of people there, as it was the Summer season. It was also hot, as the entire town is made of stone, and there’s nowhere to hide from the sun and the radiant heat. Bottled water and gelatos, not cheap, were being gobbled up by the hordes of parched visitors.
From Siena, we headed north through some more remarkably beautiful countryside.
After a wonderful ride in the country, we approached our next stop, a hilltop town called “San Gimignano”.
It is an unusual looking place (for rural Italy) because of the remnant Medieval multi-story structures that look like apartment towers.
According to our Rick Steve’s guide book, there were once 72 of these towers in the town, built by two opposing families attempting to “out do” the other, with the tallest at about 230’.
It is a peculiar place, but quite striking, as it sits amidst a peaceful rural area featuring olive orchards and grape vineyards. We spent a bit of time there, taking photos and imagining what the place looked like when it was in its full glory. There are only 12 surviving towers, including the Torre Grossa, built in 1310 A.D., which is 177’ in height. Can you imagine how much money was spent on this foolishness?!
We had a very nice dinner that night in the little town of Chiusi, just down the road from our boutique countryside hotel. The restaurant was fairly small, and was owned by a gregarious fellow who went from table to table chatting with his guests. He could speak (he told us) twelve languages, and he used them as he went from table to table, linguistically shifting gears seamlessly. He was quite an impressive host, and the food was good, too.
The next day, we headed over to the port of Civitavecchia to join the Manning family for our 12-day Greek Isles Princess cruise.
As I recall, before heading toward the Aegean Sea, the cruise ship went north a bit to make a stop at Livorno (i.e. the port for Florence). Charlie and I had been to Florence before, but my siblings had not, so we suggested that the group could see more in the day if we rented cars instead of taking a tour bus. It turned out to be a bad recommendation.
They had also not been to “Pisa” (or anywhere else in Italy), so we headed up there, getting lost on the way. My siblings weren’t happy with me. When we got to Pisa, we had to park a considerable way from the objective. It was a long walk into the park-like setting, and my sisters Claudia and Kellie were grumbling.
When we arrived at the Piazza del Duomo, and could see the Leaning Tower in the distance…
…we found it necessary to walk a several hundred-yard gauntlet of pushy vendors on the sidewalk leading into the park.
We got close enough to see the Leaning Tower, when, abruptly, my tourist companions decided that they’d seen enough. That was OK with Charlie and I, because we’d been there before, and we had other things to do that day. So, we beat a hasty retreat to the rental cars.
On the way to Florence (which Charlie and I had visited previously), we stopped at “Lucca”. It is another walled city, with some beautiful views and an unusual tower in the middle of the town. I think we had lunch there in Lucca.
From there, we headed into “Florence”, looking for some place to park two cars. We finally found a parking structure and headed off toward the Duomo.
I can’t recall exactly what overyone did that day in Florence, but I know that we split up: those that hadn’t been there before went one way, and we went our own.
Charlie and I wandered off in the direction of the Uffizi Gallery to sightsee, and I recall that we investigated the Ponte Vecchio and Boboli Gardens, from afar, as well.
I do recall that the main touristy part of town (near the Duomo)…
… was overrun by street vendors, much worse than anything that we’d seen before.
It was amazing that the local merchants could sell anything at all, and doubly amazing that the local police and politicians were allowing this unseemly chaos to ruin their city. Somebody must be getting bribed, I thought; it was horrible. I made a promise to myself to never again set foot in Florence.
We eventually hooked up with the other Mannings, who’d seen
what they need to, and got the Hell out of Florence. It was sad that my siblings
had to see it that way, severely debauched by the hordes of street vendors. So
Later that day, we hopped aboard the cruise boat and headed out to sea, to enjoy a wonderful family vacation…which would end up in “Venice”, one of our other favorite Italian destinations.
Venice is…magnificent. We’ve been there a couple of times, and each time there are new, wonderful memories. The amazing architecture, the magnificent cathedral, the pigeons, the canals, the gelato, the gondolas, the food, and the smell…it’s a one-of-a-kind sensual overload. And, no automobiles allowed…at all.
Of course, St. Mark’s Plaza is where all of the tourists congregate, usually for their one-day blitz on the town, coming off of a cruise boat.
And, if all one saw of Venice were those famous sights (the Basilica, the Doge’s Palace, the Bell Tower, the Main Canal, the dock with scores of moored gondolas), it would probably be enough visual stimulation.
But, the real good stuff in Venice, in my opinion, is outside of the Piazza San Marco. We like to head out the back side of the Piazza, through one of the exit arches, and just go get lost in the Venice neighborhoods, where the locals live.
There’s lots of good stuff back there, like cozy outdoor restaurants, art museums, shops, little picturesque bridges spanning small canals, and small neighborhoods with undies hanging from clothes’ lines. It’s La Dolce Vita; we love it.
There’s a number of spectacular art museums out in the Venice boonies…
… and a photo op around every corner, mainly because of all the canals..
Great gelato, too.
And, a chance to do some bargaining with gondola operators.
In addition, you can tour a glassmaking shop; very interesting.
And, when you are tired of walking, you can hop on a water taxi and speed off on a cheap, wonderful sightseeing tour of your own making.
When we were there with my siblings, there was some sort of strike going on by the local seaborne merchants, and they had all of their boats chained together, blocking one of the main canals, trying to make some point with authorities, I guess.
We’ve never been to Venice when the tide was super-high. However, in very high tides, the water in the Piazza can be a couple of feet deep, and they must put pallets out to enable folks to get to and from.
This scene from last October is a reminder that the entire city of Venice was built on land reclaimed from the sea, and, with climate warming, sea level is slowly rising. It could very well be that Venice, as we know it, will be submerged, like Atlantis, in 50 to 100 years.
What a shame that would be!
Another shame is the presence of those pesky street vendors. Just outside of Piazza San Marco, on one of the pedestrian alleys heading north, is a fancy avenue with pricey merchandise on both sides: it’s the Rodeo Drive of Venice, with all of the big name designers represented.
When we were there on this trip, there were armies of street vendors sitting right in front of the storefront windows…selling rip-off versions of the designer products right inside! The vendors were mostly (from appearances) Somalian “skinnies”, hawking cheap Chinese-made handbags, wristwatches, and such.
As I’ve mentioned before, there seems to be no local law enforcement effort being made at all to combat these crimes; it’s amazing that the Prada, Louis Vuittan, and Rolex establishments put up with this, because their store rent costs must be astronomical. Go figure. Maybe they know that real high-end customers won’t buy rip-offs, and those folks that do couldn’t afford anything in their store, anyway.
As I said, Venice is awesome once you get away from Piazza San Marco, particularly at night.
Our group had a wonderful outdoor candlelight dinner at a small piazza in one of the neighborhoods where we got lost one day. It was a great, romantic experience, and the food was excellent, as well.
Speaking of romantic, we did not do a gondola ride on this particular trip to Venice, but my siblings did, as I recall.
Gondola rides are very expensive, and, as the saying goes, “You get what you pay for!” We did an economy gondola ride some years before, only to find out when we got to the dock that we were SHARING the romantic ride with another couple! Not so good; it kinda took the specialness out of the thing. We probably saved $100, but…how many times are you going to do this, anyway? I think that it is important to do it right…damn the cost.
Anyway, I think my brother and his wife (who have more money!) enjoyed a much nicer gondola on their visit to Venice Charlie and I had many years before. Dammit.
We did, however, get the best of them when the ship stopped in Naples. As I recall, they did a tour of Pompeii, which we’d seen before, while we spent the day enjoying a spectacular visit of the “Amalfi Coast”.
Our tour (on a huge, deluxe bus) started in Sorrento, where we were able to enjoy the beautiful coastal overlook, tour a factory where they make inlaid wood products (we bought a nice box!), and consume some of the local specialty liquor…limoncello. What great stuff that is!!
From Sorrento, we headed south on the Amalfi Coast Road, which is a narrow (did I say NARROW?) road with huge drop-offs to the side toward the gorgeous coast below. It would be scary to drive this road…on a bike!
We were in a huge bus, and it literally “takes a village” to organize the bus tours along this dangerous road. Local residents and vendors help guide the buses around tight spots, where there may only be a few feet of clearance between bus and buildings. At certain times of the day, the road is “one way only” for tourists…southbound, as I recall. It is a hot mess, but very profitable for the locals, as each bus brings in a bunch of disposable income to be spread between the merchants hawking their wares.
The bus ride was an E-ticket, for sure. I was on the inland left side of the bus, so I wasn’t looking down at the ocean so much. But, I did notice a lot of the local residential property hugging the steep cliffs. They all had a lot of gardens, growing all manner of fruits and vegetables. Our guide told us that this is because property taxes on residential property in Italy are high, but not so bad on agricultural. If a residential property has a certain amount of coverage in plantings, then they are considered farmers. So, everyone has lemon trees, tomato vines, and such scattered wherever things can grow.
(It reminded me of the tax law in Mexico, where one sees many structures in rural areas and small towns with rebar sticking out of the top of the structural walls. The property tax is only levied when the structure is completed, so many projects are left “almost done”, with rebar clearly visible to the inspector…avoiding the finished project property tax.)
I recall a doofus going wrong way on the highway, causing all sorts of problems with oncoming traffic. Some stupid tourist, ignoring signs, I’m sure.
We ate a very nice lunch in a cliff-side restaurant somewhere between Sorrento and Positano.
Good food, plus our waiter was a cool guy who looked like he could be one of Charlie’s lost Italian cousins. He was shaped like a brick…short and squat, probably had a 50-inch chest. Couldn’t speak a word of English, but…who cared!
Positano was quite picturesque, with lots of brightly colored homes perched on hillsides all the way down to the aqua blue water. What lucky folks live in that paradise!! I think we just stopped there for a few photos and a chance to flex our knees.
Our last stop on the southbound leg was Amalfi itself. It is a substantial place, with a beautiful harbor and beach, a striking cathedral, and plenty of shops for the tourists.
We wandered the wonderful place, taking lots of photos and exploring the nooks and crannies.
The beach strand was covered umbrellas, which are put out by the many cafes which serve the beachgoers, some of whom are…nude, I discovered.
The cathedral, which appears to be built right into a cliff, has a massive staircase leading up to it, and is clad in an unusual mix of stone colors. Very cool and impressive for such a small town.
As I recall, the “coast” part of our tour ended in Ravello, which is known for its flowers and gardens, mixed in with the normal cliffside homes, restaurants and hotels. Very pretty.
We finished our nice day on the Amalfi Coast by heading back up the main highway to Naples. Along the way, we drove right by Mount Vesuvius, which is huge and scary-looking. It’s probably just a matter of time before it blows again and buries a lot more people, as the area has grown many-fold in population since 79 A.D.
On a different Mediterranean cruise, this time with my parents Rich and Bobbie, we had the opportunity visit “Taormina”, Sicily for half a day.
This is a real cool place, way up on a mountain above the azure waters of the Ionian Sea. The cab ride up the cliff in a taxi looks impossible, but they make it, somehow.
Taormina was founded by the Greeks more than two thousand years ago. Later came the Romans, the Carthaginians, the Moors, the Normans, the Spanish, the French, and, later, the Italians. Everyone has taken their shot here.
The most outstanding architectural relic in the town is the Roman amphitheater.
The town has a large plaza with obligatory Catholic church, and many hotels, restaurants, and shops. It’s like the town of Laguna Beach in Southern California, but up on a mountainside in Sicily. Very pretty, lots of tourists, lots of sun…what’s not to like?
Of course, the real reason people have been coming here for thousands of years is the view: spectacular!
This interesting town is definitely one the prettiest places that we’ve ever visited. I’d love to live there.
The Mediterranean cruise with my parents was the last vacation that I spent with my Dad, who passed away within six months of this wonderful visit to Taormina.
Donald Trump won the 2016 election despite losing the popular vote by 3 million votes. Approximately thirty million eligible voters did not cast a ballot for either candidate.
Trump’s political imperative, once elected, was to broaden his appeal beyond his base supporters.
With the 2020 campaign fast approaching, our President is casting about for some accomplishment that he can claim credit for. His promised replacement of Obamacare with something better… totally bombed. He scrapped the Trans Pacific and NAFTA trade pacts, and has been unable to come up with an improved product. He promised to build an impenetrable border wall paid for by Mexico, and that hasn’t happened. He instituted tariff wars with perceived enemy states and allies, and those have proven to be a disaster economically and politically. He promised, if elected, to release his tax returns; he didn’t. He promised a Mideast Peace Plan; nothing happened.
About the only thing he’s done lately is push the United States right to the brink of a war with Iran.
It’s actually a good question. Prior to Trump, Iran was behaving modestly, at least with regard to abiding by the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, a nuclear non-proliferation agreement between Iran and the U.K., France, China, Russia and the U.S. Once elected, President Trump withdrew America’s support of the pact, and began to terrorize Iran with economic and political sanctions. The other “allied” powers in the pact are pissed at the U.S., as is Iran.
There is substantial evidence that America is using its power to effect a regime change in Tehran. National Security Advisor John Bolton has publicly admitted this, as have other Administration bigwigs.
It is apparent to anyone who pays attention to developments over there that the United States is trying mightily to goad the Iranians into some kind of incident which will justify American military intervention.
We almost succeeded this past week, when the Iranians shot down an American drone which, allegedly, flew over Iranian airspace. The drone surveillance was in response, supposedly, to Iranian attacks on merchant ships near the Strait of Hormuz.
As my father once advised me, “Don’t poke a hornets’ nest unless you’re ready to pay the consequences!”
Again, why are we determined to torment the Iranians into a
If we were able to affect a regime change in Iran, what would happen? America did that exact thing in Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq, and caused a shitstorm in the Middle East that continues to this day. Does anyone remember ISIS? Are things better in the Middle East after trillions of taxpayer dollars spent and untold lives lost? It doesn’t appear so, and the U.S. has been bogged down there for twenty years. President Trump announced last week that we are sending an additional 1,000 troops… for what?
Ever heard of the “Law of Unintended Consequences”? It seems to be the policy mantra of the Trump Administration. Bad ideas are substituted for good ones, then shit happens, and then different bad ideas are trotted out to replace the original ones, they don’t work, and the failure is attributed to Obama, the Democrats, “fake news”, or some other bogeyman.
In most cases, the President either lies about the fuck-up or merely re-brands the failure as a great success: another “win” for the team. His core supporters lap it up, because that’s what they do, living in the alternate reality that is the MAGA world.
But, there have been so many of these false successes that even the President knows that his bullshit and recklessness are not working to bring any of those 30 million eligible voters into his camp. He’s acting increasingly edgy lately, obviously desperate for a legitimate success that will win them over.
About the only thing that the President HAS accomplished since taking office is to re-jigger the Supreme Court in a conservative way, brand the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. as “untrustworthy”, and gut environmental, economic, and workplace regulations. These are legitimate “wins” for Trump…but they play to the same audience: the “dark state” conspiracy theorists, religious nutcases, and conservative MAGA voters, who were always going to vote for Trump in 2020.
How about kicking some smaller country’s ass? It worked for Reagan when we invaded Granada.
It appears that the President thought, this past week, that he could make some hay with a military attack against Iran, and was on the brink of doing so. However, leaders of both parties impressed upon him what a BAD IDEA it was, and, uncharacteristically, he reconsidered… for the time being.
Iran is not Granada; it is a large country, three times as populous as Iraq was under Sadaam Hussein, with considerable military resources. It would not be a pushover, and Muslims from all over the world would be supportive of Iran. And, since it is strategically important (i.e. oil), other superpowers, like Russian and China could intercede.
A limited attack on Iran may (probably, will) happen in the coming weeks to politically position Donald Trump as a decisive Commander in Chief, but a better job will have to be done by the Administration in justifying an attack. American lives will have to be lost, an American ship will have to be attacked, or the like, just like the explosion on the U.S.S. Maine in San Juan Harbor (triggering the Spanish-American War) or the Gulf of Tonkin Incident (which ushered in the Vietnam War).
I’m sure that Mr. Trump has someone working on that.
Charlie and I are about to hit the road with the motor home again. This will be our 7th summer in a row, I believe, traveling the highways and byways of America. It’s been fun, first with our 26’ travel trailer, and, for the past five years, in the 40’ Monaco Windsor motor home.
This year we’ll head up to the Oregon coast, then to the Northern California coast, and then finish up on the Southern California coast, in Oceanside, dodging hot weather all of the way.
It’s nice because there’s no long-haul airline travel, which
is bad for Charlie’s blood clotting issues, and our canine children can tag
Before the blood clots and the dogs, we used to travel all over the place…in ships.
We’ve been on a couple of dozen cruises, and we are “Diamond” members of Princess and Royal Caribbean. We get special perks when we cruise with them, like VIP bars and such.
Places that we’ve cruised to include:
We’re probably not done with cruising, although we’ve experienced most of the more common itineraries. It’s an easy and relatively inexpensive way to travel…and to chill out.
We cruised the Panama Canal for our 25th anniversary…
…and had a very romantic dinner at this rooftop restaurant overlooking Acapulco Bay.
Maybe we can do something like that for our 50th anniversary in 2024?
I got a Father’s Day telephone call yesterday from our estranged son Ron. How unexpected and how nice!
This is Ron with his current family:
It was the first conversation that Ron and I have had in many years; I don’t know what came over him. Guilt, perhaps.
He and his wife Allister excommunicated Charlie and I many years ago, along with his three brothers, his young son Alex, and two stepsons, for reasons known only to him. It’s a sorry situation, but it’s Ron’s choice; he has to live with his decisions.
Back in the late Eighties, when Ron was around 20, a happy
member of our family, and was in the Air Force stationed in Great Britain,
Charlie and I did a European vacation with him. His call yesterday brought back
many memories of that trip. The three of us had a great time.
After arriving in London, Charlie and I saw many of the big tourist sites: Big Ben, Westminister Abbey, the Tower of London, the “Tube” (subway), the British Museum, Buckingham Palace, etc.
One thing I remember about Westminster Abbey is that there are a lot of dead people in there, in fancy marble coffins, in crypts, and right under your feet, with horizontal tombstones made from marble. Its possible to walk on the headstone of Stephen Hawking, for example, and other notable Brits. Interesting, but creepy.
The British Museum is loaded with booty looted from foreign countries when the British Empire was in full flower. Nowadays, it is considered totally gauche to steal irreplaceable cultural artifacts from other countries, but 100 years ago…you came, you saw, and you looted.
The Tower of London is a dark and forbidding place. Enemies of the Crown were imprisoned and killed there, so there are dungeons, torture equipment, suits of armor, and weapons galore.
And, guys in funny outfits, ready to spear tresspassers and no-goodniks.
The Crown Jewels are also kept in the Tower.
We only had a day or two, so we had to keep moving. Lots of neat stuff to see in London, though; we’ll have to come back.
I recall going to a movie cinema one night, and they had an
intermission in the middle of the showing. Everyone retreated to the lobby to
get snacks and drinks…alcoholic ones, too. You could get a glass of wine, a
cocktail, a pint of ale, etc. Why not? It seemed a very civilized thing to do.
Once we hooked up with Ron, we headed out to Stonehenge, which is just off of a highway, out in the boonies.
And then we proceeded on to the old Roman town of Bath, named for the ancient steam baths. It is one of the most beautiful English cities, filled with cool architecture.
From Bath, we turned around and headed out for the east coast of England. We visited a seaside pub somewhere for lunch and I enjoyed Fish and Chips and room temperature pint of lager. Very good, actually.
We got a chance to stroll around the very pretty town of Canterbury…
… and then headed off for the white cliffs of Dover.
Now, this was back before the “Chunnel” tunnel under the sea to France, so we had to take an actual “slow boat” to Calais from Dover. It took all night, we had to nap in hard plastic seats, the slow, old tub was rocking back and forth, and…it sucked.
When we got to Calais, France, and were going through immigration, Ron realized that he forgot his French visa, so he was probably going to be denied entry to France. A catastrophe! Luckily, right as we got near the head of the immigration line, a guy in front of us projectile barfed while being interviewed by French authorities, and the flummoxed official rushed us through the portal, not checking for Ron’s visa. Thank you, Jesus!
We were all traveling very light, had EuroRail passes, and intended to stay at the cheapest hotels that we could find in our “Europe on $50 per day” handbook. We rode the train to Paris, Charlie took a nap at our fleabag hotel on our miniature beds, and Ron and I went down the street to a McDonald’s and each of us ordered up a cheeseburger. Travolta was correct: it was the best food that we’d had in a week.
The Louvre was closed (on a Tuesday?), but we had a chance to hit one of the great pastry shops…
… and mosey on over to the Eiffel Tower. Charlie chickened out; wouldn’t go to the top. (I think she went to the lower terminal.) Ron and I took the elevator to the top and enjoyed the views; spectacular!
We took the train from Paris to Rome, where we boarded at a small hotel across the street from Basilica of St. Mary Maggiore.
The basilica is considered one of the “Big Four” in Rome, where there are churches on every corner. It was our first sighting of a Roman Catholic cathedral and we were awed by the architecture and art. There were paintings by Titian on wall, for God’s sake.
It also houses, if you can believe it, a few wooden planks from Jesus’ manger. (HaHa, some Arab flim flam man made a few bucks from that Medieval con!)
We then traipsed around the Roman Forum…where Julius Caesar was stabbed…
… and the Colosseum (where I fell into a 5 foot hole in the sidewalk!).
The stadium complex was designed so that gladiators and animals could be brought to the surface of the arena via a network of tunnels.
What magnificent places those must have been back in the day; it’s not hard to imagine chariots, gladiators fighting each other, and Senators dressed in togas. We gave this tourist attraction an enthusiastic “Thumbs up”, despite my near death.
We then decided to take the subway out to the Catacombs (i.e. the underground burial tombs that had been looted over the centuries by various Popes, with the bones sold as “relics” to the faithful) . However, once we were below ground, about ready to board the subway train, there was a terrorist alert, and everyone had to evacuate the facility. We ran like scared rabbits up and out…and then heard a loud “bang”.
So much for the Catacombs.
The next day we took the subway out to the Vatican, where we explored the ostentious place, paid for by billions of tithes from poor people all over the world.
What over-the-top, boastful exuberance there is on display there; 24K gold inlay edging, expensive tile everywhere, marble columns 100’ high, fine statuary, lots of guys walking around in clerical collars, vestments, and hoods, looking holy, and menacing Swiss Guards in ridiculous gaudy, costumes, etc.. It is an amazing place, to say the least.
We took stairs up onto the roof…
…and stood next to the Apostles standing guard there, looking out over the enormous square. Very intimidating, I’m sure, for the faithful who gather to see the Pope.
We then explored the Vatican Museum. It is chock full of loot that was purloined from sacred sites all over the Roman Empire. In addition, it houses a lot of religious art that was commissioned by the Church…like the Sistine Chapel. In order to appreciate that place, you must lie on your back and look up at the ceiling to enjoy Michaelangelo’s masterwork. It’s quite breathtaking.
After our viewing, we had a slice of cold pizza just around the corner…room temperature is how they serve it, good but expensive. (Which reminds me: Restaurant food is exorbitant in Rome: we ate a lot of bread, cold cuts, and water.)
As I recall, we took a very early train to Naples the next morning. Downtown was very cold and forbidding, with lots of swarthy guys just hanging around, and not one woman in sight. This fort was cool, though.
I got Charlie a demitasse of super-strong expresso, which a kind old fellow helped her dilute with sugar. We then took the Circumvesuviana train out to the archaeological ruins at Pompeii.
This place was a resort for well-to-do Romans which fell victim to an eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D. The city and most of its residents were buried in ash and cinders.
It is a very thought-provoking place. The chariot wheel ruts are still in the streets, some of the wall murals are still visible in the excavated homes, and there are unearthed restaurants, bakeries, stables, an amphitheatre, and a whorehouse, among other structures.
They are still excavating in Pompeii, and more structures and petrified dead bodies are turning up regularly, frozen in a moment of time.
One can only imagine the panic-stricken Pompeiians stampeding toward the sea with the suffocating wall of hot ash, cinders and lava chasing them. Yipes!
We retreated to Rome later that day, then headed north on the train the next morning to Vienna, Austria. Or, so we thought.
When the train got to Venice, it just stopped, and the conductor said, in Italian, something like “Everyone off!” Evidently, we were on the last Italian train of the day, and there were no Austrian connections that evening. I’d fucked up, apparently. I’d also caught a very nasty cold, and there we were, stranded in the cold train depot, having to wait until the next morning to catch a train. I was dying. Charlie saved the day by trudging, in the dark and in the rain, down the street into Venice, and, miraculously, found us a hotel room for the night.
We were on a tight schedule, and had not intended to stop in Venice, so we headed on into Austria the next day, skipping Vienna and heading directly to Munich. There, we had a very nice evening at a beer hall, watching the ex-Nazis sing, dance, and chug beers. What a nice bunch of fun-loving alcoholics they were!
The next day we took the “el” train out to Dachau Nazi concentration camp.
It is in a park setting, right smack in the middle of a modern Munich sudivision; you’re looking at a scene out of American suburbia, then you round the corner, expecting to see a school, a pocket park, or a Good Humor ice cream truck, and, achtung!…barbed wire, gun towers, crematories, and the “Work Will Set You Free!” entry sign. It’s a mindblower.
There is a museum there for the younger folks who don’t know what evil lurked back in the day. Also, a tour which takes you into the barracks where the condemned tried to sleep, to torture chambers, to the ovens, where the Jews who died were incinerated, etc. The whole thing makes your skin crawl, which is probably the point. I hope the German citizenry gets the point.
From Munich, we took the train to Geneva, Switzerland. Very pretty, neat, prosperous city, with a tremendous lake and mountain view. I could live there (if I had a million bucks or so laying around).
We were only passing through, so we spent a few hours that evening at the movie theater watching Eddie Murphy’s latest flick, “Coming to America”. It was passable entertainment, but what was very interesting was the commercials that preceded the movie. American theatres had not yet begun to do this, so we were surprised to see lengthy, finely-produced productions (more than a minute) pitching various consumer products.
The next morning, we took the TGV high-speed train (200 mph) from Geneva back to Paris. Now THAT’S what I call a train! TGV’s going in opposite directions pass each other in one second…swear to God!
In Paris it was Tuesday again, and therefore the Louvre was closed, dammit, so that sucked. I believe that we had dinner that night on the Left Bank…at a Russian restaurant, probably because it was inexpensive. Borscht…ugh!
I do recall crossing the English Channel the next day in style…in a Hovercraft. It took maybe 45 minutes, as compared to all night on the tramp steamer. You get what you pay for!!!
And that was it, our European blitz tour was over. We had a
great time, enjoyed some special once-in-a-lifetime moments with Ron, and got a
taste of world traveling.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House Press Secretary, is resigning from the Trump Administration. She is the eighth Press Secretary to have served under Donald Trump.
What a tough job that must be.
No one knows what the guy will say, or when, about anything Administration-related or any subject that crosses his mind. He has verbal diarrhea with no editorial control. He just blurts out stuff which, typically, has no basis in fact…but, in his mind, makes a great sound bite for Fox News. The MAGA folk lap it up.
The Fact Checker, a weekly Washington Post columnled by veteran journalist Glenn Kessler that researches the accuracy of statements made by political figures, reported last week that Trump’s “untruth” tally had hit 10,111 after 828 days in office.
Consider the plight of the White House Press Secretary whose duty it is to brief the press on Presidential comings and goings, important policy initiatives, and, particularly with this President, to walk-back stupid things the President tweeted, re-engineering language that he publicly “misspoke”, and openly lie about something that her boss did or said.
Mrs. Sanders has been caught repeatedly lying about stuff from the Press Secretary’s podium, and has had a habit of dressing-down the White House press pool for having the temerity to question the obvious lies. In her mind, and that of her President, those vultures were “enemies” (for seeking the truth, which is their job).
The Press Secretary has not held an official press conference with the White House press pool for the past three months. This abnormality may be attributable to the fact that Mrs. Sanders’ public lying was documented several times in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election and the attempts by the President and his operatives to obstruct the Special Counsel’s investigation.
In particular, the Press Secretary herself participated in the trumped-up case to justify the firing of FBI Director James Comey. Mrs. Sanders, at the White House press podium, invented some “facts” regarding FBI rank-and-file dissatisfaction with Comey, and on another occasion doubled-down with additional falsehoods demeaning the FBI Director. He was subsequently fired. When the Special Counsel pressed her on those statements, she admitted that they were made up out of thin air and stated that it was a “slip of the tongue”…that happened twice, on separate occasions!
So, we have had, for the past couple of years, a Press Secretary who lies, then lies about her lies, in support of the President, who is a pathological liar.
Truth is scarce in Washington D.C., but the current crew has taken the art form of blatant dishonesty to a level that would make Richard Nixon envious.
Sanders won’t be missed, except by the Liar-in-Chief.
It is rumored that Sarah Huckabee Sanders, in-your-face-Born Again Christian and professional liar, is going to run for Governor of Arkansas.
No shit. And, she’ll probably win; those Bible Belt hypocrites love a good fibber.